Curve, Leicester
  Opened 3 March, 2009

Director Tim Supple has perhaps felt the twin impulses to make this production much the same as his wondrous multi-culti A Midsummer Night’s Dream of 2006-7, and to make it very different. Where it follows the earlier production is in using a cast of intercontinental origins, although in this case, lines are delivered in English only. Where the Dream showed us the universality of love, magic and things fantastical, this As You Like It seeks to make a similar point about nationality to Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice, namely that the English are a richly hybrid people, and so Shakespeare’s essence-of-England Arden can sustain (for instance) a finale that features several diverse marriage rites.
Unfortunately, this is a point I gleaned from reading around the production (programme notes, pre-publicity) rather than from impressions gained in performance. For the most significant difference from the Dream is that this show is almost entirely devoid of fun. One cannot blame Supple for cutting too-revered set-piece routines such as Rosalind’s “I’ll tell you who time ambles withal” and Touchstone’s “degrees of the lie” (I suspect he might even have axed the Seven Ages of Man speech if he’d thought he could get away with it), but plenty of gag opportunities that remain are simply not taken, perhaps even deliberately suppressed. I am fond of Kevork Malikyan as an actor, but his jester Touchstone orates rather than bantering. There are laughs, but they are pitifully thin on the ground. Playing Jaques as genuinely, and increasingly, melancholy can work as a contrast to the merriment elsewhere in the forest; here, Justin Avoth feels as if on his final exit he might hang himself from a tree before he gets to his hermit’s cave.
Neither the design nor the venue itself help matters. Anna Fleischle’s set converts from floorboards into a wood-cum-wasteland which leave us in no doubt that this is not an Arden where folk “fleet the time carelessly”. And Leicester’s major new theatre (to which I was belatedly paying my first visit) is, in view of its design brief, a surprisingly unresponsive space. Above all, though, in hoping to Trojan-horse meditations on nationality and exile inside this comedy, Supple seems to have neglected to build the comedic horse itself. I hate to say it, but this production is dreary; more disturbingly, it may well be dreary by design.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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